The HTC One XL isn’t a design we’ve never seen before; it’s the HTC One X with a few tweaks. Well, by “tweaks”, we mean some pretty awesome under-the-hood changes. It picks up where the One X left off, but has moved from a Quad-Core Tegra 3 CPU to a Dual-Core 1.5GHz Snapdragon S4 chipset as well as an LTE modem for break-neck mobile data speeds (in Telstra’s 4G coverage, obviously). Don’t let the change from 4 cores to 2 cores fool you, the One XL is just as speedy and power efficient as the One X thanks to the ARM Cortex-A15 architecture that the chip is built on.
That other addition to the One XL is LTE — more specifically it’s Telstra’s 4G LTE, at least it is in the case of the One XL being sold here. The One XL will allow speeds of up to 100Mbit down and 50Mbit up, but in the real world you can halve that, which is still mind-blowing in all honesty. While Telstra might be slow to rollout their 4G network, if you’re in a metro area or a large country town you’re likely to see 4G in the near future and the One XL is one of many devices to keep an eye on.
In terms of design the One XL is exactly the same as the One X, which itself is an absolutely stunning piece of hardware — by far the best Android phone we’ve played with to date (so that doesn’t include the upcoming Galaxy S III from Samsung). The screen is a large 4.7-inches and has a resolution of 1280×720 (312 PPI) and it is the best looking display on the market, and that’s not coming from just me, the tech industry whole-heartedly agrees. Most of the time you’ll have the full 4.7-inches for your own use, unless the app needs the old-school menu button, in which case the phone will use up ~90 pixels to display a single menu button (in the same way the Galaxy Nexus has on-screen buttons).
As for buttons and hardware you have 3 capacitive buttons under the display in the formation of: back, home and multitasking (you can get some insight into the One X(L)’s multitasking here). There’s an 8MP camera and LED flash on the rear of the device (1.2MP on the front), and it’s the one of the best cameras we’ve used on an Android smartphone — right up there with the Samsung Galaxy S II. The camera protrudes out from the back of the phone, so it can be a scratching hazard. The camera has a handful of built-in effects which are quite good, but with the recent introduction of Instagram for Android, they’re now pretty pointless. Video can be shot in 1080p at 30FPS with the helpful addition of some pretty shonky stabilisation.
Accompanying the camera on the rear is a loudspeaker and dock connectors, although we’re not aware of any official docks that make use of it. On the right hand side is the volume rocker sitting all on its lonesome — no dedicated camera button here. On the left side is the Micro USB input which can also be used as HDMI-out if you buy an MHL adapter (about $30). On the bottom is the in-call microphone. And on the top is the 3.5mm headphone jack, power button and a dedicated noise cancelling microphone which does a good job in-call.
In terms of overall performance the One XL is very speedy and there’s no discernible difference between Snapdragon S4 and Tegra 3. We benchmarked — using quadrant — against the Galaxy Nexus and scored well over 1,000 points higher (see below).
In hand the One XL is the best feeling and looking Android devices that we’ve reviewed, and I’m not just saying that because I bought one, I’m saying that because after reviewing the One X I fell in love and decided to jump on the “One” bandwagon.
What we like
We like pretty much everything about the HTC One XL. It provided more than enough battery life to get me through the average use in a day — something a lot of phone nowadays can’t achieve. The battery life was much better than that of the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. Camera performance blew nearly every phone (except for the Galaxy S II) out of the water with its vibrant colouring, even in low-light situations.
If there’s anything to turn people off the HTC One XL, it’ll be Sense UI, but I found it to be rather enjoyable, especially since it has been toned down from version 3.0 (it’s at 4.0 at the moment). The device is running Android 4.0, so we’re right up to date with Android, and can enjoy Ice Cream-only apps such as Google Chrome BETA.
A massive bonus in the HTC One XL is Dual-Cell HSPA+, which can double the speed of normal HSPA+ from 21.1Mbps to 42.2Mbps. We can confirm DC-HSPA+ works perfectly in the variant of the One XL from MobiCity — can’t confirm for the Telstra version until it is unannounced / released. We were seeing speeds of 7Mbps to 15Mbps downlink in real-world usage and it was pretty stable between 1Mbps to 2Mbps uplink. LTE is a whole new ball game; we saw speeds up to 50Mbps in Brisbane (as tested by the MobiCity team), 50Mbps in Sydney (as tested by Ross from PC World Aus) and the same here in Melbourne. Even if LTE isn’t in your area, DC-HSPA+ is godsend for Telstra users.
As a music lover, I was quite happy with the performance of Beats Audio (yes, it’s just a bass increase profile (software)) and will happily say it has the best audio of any device I’ve reviewed. The loudspeaker is also great, but when sitting on its back the speak sits flush with the surface of whatever it’s sitting on, so sound can be very soft. If you’re going to listen to music using the loudspeaker, the best thing to do is sit it down on the display side.
What can be improved
Hmm.. what didn’t we like about the HTC One XL. Sense UI normally springs to mind, but it’s actually really bearable on the One XL. The keyboard had to be the most annoying thing we found. It’s quite slow to respond to finger presses, so you can’t type really fast and expect it to keep up. Even swapping out the Sense UI keyboard for a custom one from the market made little difference. Over time you get used to typing slower, but we’d much prefer the fast typing on the Galaxy Nexus.
Expandable memory is likely to be a limiting factor if you’re a big media consumer. There’s 16GB built-in and that’s as far as she goes. There’s no Micro SD slot to add more storage, instead your only other option is using a cloud service and streaming it to your device over Wi-Fi (or 3G if you’re a billionaire). I don’t regularly store large files on my device, and use Grooveshark for music streaming, so it isn’t at all an issue for me.
If you are a big music listener, you’re going to have to buy your own suitable headphones. The ones that are included are complete crap and aren’t even the mediocre Beats headphones that were once included in the HTC Sensation range of devices. We recommend buying a $50 pair of Sennheisers and enjoying the audio quality.
The last thing that can be improved is the volume of notification sounds and the notification LED — both are lacklustre. When you listen to music, the loudspeaker is at a sufficient volume that can be heard from a fair distance away, but when you receive a notification it purposes makes the sound softer. While this might be great when you’re in a meeting (or texting in class when your teacher’s not looking), it’s pretty bad in normal use. The same goes for the notification LED, it’s very dull and can’t be seen very well when looking at the device from an angle.
- 1.5GHz Dual-Core Snapdragon S4 CPU
- Adreno 220 GPU
- Android 4.0.3 w/ Sense UI 4.0
- 4.7-inch 1280×720 (312 PPI) Super LCD2 Display
- 850/900/1900/2100MHz DC-HSPA+ (42.2Mbps / 5.76Mbps)
- 1800MHz / 2600MHz 4G LTE (Telstra 4G)
- 16GB Internal, 1GB RAM
- Wi-Fi a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0
- 8MP Camera / 1.2MP Camera (1080p video)
- 1800mAh Battery
- Beats Audio
ConclusionHaving not yet played with and reviewed the Galaxy S III from Samsung, we can easily say that this is the best Android phone available on the market at this very moment. It brings together the epicness (coined it) that is the HTC One X and adds extreme LTE and Dual-Cell HSPA+ speeds — a must have for hardcore streamers of music and video.
It’s hard to fault the HTC One XL. HTC have put a lot of time, effort and resources into creating something great and they have come out with something exactly that. We recommend the HTC One XL to everyone looking for a sexy, classy looking phone that has performance to boot.
The HTC One XL is available for purchase from MobiCity (and soon: Telstra) for $829 at the time of posting this review.